Burning Questions: What Have You Learned During the First Quarter of the MLB Season?
The numberFire baseball crew will be - and has been - posting a feature called Burning Questions. The idea is simple: we pose a general question then provide many answers and explanations on the particular subject.
This gives you, the reader, a chance to hear opinions from many different experts, who, believe it or not, don't always agree on everything. What we do have in common is a knowledge of and love for the game, and we want you to be a part of the conversation. Feel free to pose an answer to this or a future Burning Question on Twitter, or tell us why you agree or disagree with one or more of our answers. These features are designed to start the conversation, not to offer a comprehensive solution, and often there is not a clear correct answer.
In this edition, Daniel, Chris and I - Dan - share one thing that we have learned over the first quarter of the season. There have been many lessons learned, but these three stick out above the rest in our eyes.
The AL East is a Dogfight
Daniel Lindsey's thoughts: If the first month and a half of the season have taught us anything, it's that the AL East is going to be a knock-down, drag-out dogfight. The division is currently separated by only five and a half games; the only other division with that small of a gap within the whole division is the NL East.
During the month of April, the Yankees controlled the division thanks to Boston's rough start, but they could never gain a huge edge thanks to an average offense. Tampa floundered for most of the month while Toronto was the only team that had a positive run differential. No team could really gain the edge though as each team's ERA, except Boston's (18th), was in the bottom third of the league for the month of April. The Blue Jays did have one of the best offenses in the majors in April, as they scored the eighth-most runs for the month - quietly being ignored by all.
But so far in May, it's been the Yankees turn to falter in the division (4 wins in 10 games), while the Orioles have the best record for the month at 8-3 and Boston has seemed to regain their edge, just a game and a half below Baltimore in the standings. The Blue Jays have managed to score the third-most runs of the league so far in May, but having a bottom 10 pitching staff in terms of ERA has not let them gain any traction on the division leaders. The Rays have been the only constant, even if it has been constant losing.
The dog days of summer aren't even here yet, but we're locked in for a great division race among at least three teams. The Blue Jays will continue to cause problems with their offense, but it may be hard to maintain that as the season goes on. If the Rays wake up soon, they could push for a wild card spot in the end. This division could fill three playoff spots for the AL - or beat up enough on each other that the only playoff spot ends up being the division winner. If the latter proves to be true, the end of the season could be filled with all sorts of drama and tension.
Dee Gordon is Really Fast and Pretty Good at Baseball
Chris Kay's thoughts: In the first quarter of the season, I learned a lot about a man named Devaris “Dee” Strange-Gordon. I learned the man we all know as “Dee” has a longer name than expected. I learned that Dee Gordon is super fast, and if you don’t believe me, then just look at his 24 stolen bases. Finally, I learned that, like Derek Zoolander, Dee just can’t turn left. Or hit lefties, I should say.
Let me start with Dee Gordon’s hitting. The man is batting .331 on the season, and he’s doing it mainly by crushing righties and being allergic to left-handed pitching. He's a .182 hitter against left-handed pitching so far this season compared to .375 against right-handed pitching. While his career numbers show that this is a common trend for him, they are extremely drastic this season - he's hit .215 in his career against southpaws, while hitting .293 against right-handers.
This increase in average has allowed Dee Gordon to swipe bags at a phenomenal rate. He’s on pace for almost 100 stolen bases on the season if he keeps up his hitting rates. While his career average before this season was 78%, he is stealing bags at a rate of 89%.
While regression is likely with Devaris “Dee” Strange-Gordon, let’s not jump the gun here. Let’s sit back and enjoy the best Dee Gordon we’ve ever seen and hope it continues for the rest of 2014. Unless you’re a fan of an NL West team.
The Epidemic of Tommy John Surgeries Needs to Stop
Dan Weigel's thoughts: This really isn't news and was true long before the start of the 2014 season, but Tommy John surgery really sucks. Well, actually, it's great, as it allows pitchers with dysfunctional UCLs to miss just one year and make a full recovery most of the time as opposed to ending their careers. But the sheer number of pitchers getting Tommy John surgery this year sucks.
I'll admit, I was pretty rattled about all of the arms going under the knife this whole time, but once news broke the Marlins' star pitcher Jose Fernandez was likely the next on the lengthy list, Tommy John surgery went from a major problem to a full blown epidemic in my eyes. Young UCLs are tearing like never before, and there is not much that anyone can do about it.
Sometimes we can pick out mechanical flaws that are likely to lead to elbow problems, but sometimes torn UCLs have no rhyme or reason. Despite having great mechanics, flamethrowers Matt Harvey and Jose Fernandez were both victimized by the newfound fragility in UCLs. The only fault of these pitchers is that they throw really hard, but that is part of what makes them so great. Should Mike Redmond have told Fernandez to stop throwing so hard? That seems foolish, but maybe this is a question that organizations will have to consider.
If the epidemic continues, baseball as a whole will have to consider whether premium velocity is worth the risk of Tommy John surgery. Will teams begin to favor soft-tossing pitchers with great command instead of flamethrowers because they are safer investments? While we are not there yet, the epidemic of Tommy John surgeries may eventually lead us to seriously consider this question. Even if we never get to this point, 2014 has taught me that Tommy John surgery is running rampant in the Majors, Minors, and at the amateur level. This is an epidemic and it needs to stop.